Detection of fruit and the selection of primate visual pigments for color vision

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Osorio, D. ; Smith, A.C. ; Vorobyev, M. ; Buchanan-Smith, H.M. (2004)
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.1086/425332
  • Subject: QZ | QL
    mesheuropmc: genetic structures | sense organs

Primates have X chromosome genes for cone photopigments with sensitivity maxima from 535 to 562 nm. Old World monkeys and apes (catarrhines) and the New World (platyrrhine) genus Alouatta have separate genes for 535-nm (medium wavelength; M) and 562-nm (long wavelength; L) pigments. These pigments, together with a 425-nm (short wavelength) pigment, permit trichromatic color vision. Other platyrrhines and prosimians have a single X chromosome gene but often with alleles for two or three M/L photopigments. Consequently, heterozygote females are trichromats, but males and homozygote females are dichromats. The criteria that affect the evolution of M/L alleles and maintain genetic polymorphism remain a puzzle, but selection for finding food may be important. We compare different types of color vision for detecting more than 100 plant species consumed by tamarins (Saguinus spp.) in Peru. There is evidence that both frequency-dependent selection on homozygotes and heterozygote advantage favor M/L polymorphism and that trichromatic color vision is most advantageous in dim light. Also, whereas the 562-nm allele is present in all species, the occurrence of 535- to 556-nm alleles varies between species. This variation probably arises because trichromatic color vision favors widely separated pigments and equal frequencies of 535/543- and 562-nm alleles, whereas in dichromats, long-wavelength pigment alleles are fitter.
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